Why NAMI Support Groups Don’t Suck
“Well, we’re sorry Amy. It looks like you were misdiagnosed. You have the symptoms of Bipolar 1.” Well, thank you for the freaking newsflash. For five years, I thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder. I was treated for that disorder. It’s not the same as Bipolar, contrary to what some people believe. It’s treated very differently. What would I do now? Who is going to understand me? I am alone. I will forever be alone. I have lost everything. Bedtimes with my babies, my husband, my job, my lovely house, all…gone. My therapist mentions this thing to me called NAMI. NAMI? What on earth is that? Is it short for tsunami because that’s an accurate portrayal of my current life situation. “It’s a support group, Amy. You will meet people who understand you.” She is hopeful. I am not. Then, it hits me. What else can I possibly lose? I am going to check this out. It will get me out of bed. Out of my parents’ basement where I currently call home. I must do something. Anything. I walk in. Terrified. Looking like crap, I am sure. How else can you look when you cry and sleep for days on end? I sit down. Quietly. Not knowing what to expect…or what to do. Will they have some sort of weird welcome ritual? Will they dance around me chanting my name, throwing magical fairy dust at me? I try to stay grounded. Even though I totally wish I could fly away. The leader speaks. She seems kind. Okay, so far so good. She explains the rules. She says we are going to go around the table, say our name and diagnosis if comfortable and how our week has been going. Uh oh. What is going to happen here? Will I speak? Won’t I? Will I throw up? I have no plan. I don’t know what the heck I am going to do when it comes around to me. I feel like a billion butterflies are kickboxing in my belly. It’s my turn. I decide to be as brave as I can be. I breathe. I share. I cry. And cry. And cry so much more. I try to stick to my two minute timer. I am not sure if I did or didn’t. As I looked around that table, I didn’t know a lot about these strangers, not yet friends. I did know this. I had new plans for Thursday nights. This is just a snippet of my story. At NAMI Connection, you will hear and experience many more that are very similar. I’ve been going for two years. I look forward to it every week, even if the week’s sucked. Although I’ve learned in therapy, no day or week is good or bad. We have only good and bad moments. Kyle, a Humane Society volunteer, a new facilitator and Connection member for 1 ½ years, remembers the feeling before going to the first group. “I felt no one cared and I wasn’t loved.” Afterwards is a very different story. “Everyone cares and worries about me.” As for Kyle’s thoughts on going regularly? “It’s very important to me. I need my other family.” Chuck, a disabled veteran, has also been going about a year and a half. “I feel connected with others who are experiencing mental health challenges, and I realize I am not alone. I like sharing the story of my experience and listening to others.” Newcomer Andie, a student and volunteer crisis counselor, says Connection has also changed her life. “I finally found a group of people who understand what I’m going through mentally. My favorite part of Connection is that it’s such a safe space. I feel free to open up about my problems.” Since I started going to Connection, my life has turned around. I am now a facilitator for Connection and can help others the way I was helped so kindly two years ago. I have joint custody of my kids, a great new job and I can even sometimes laugh at having bipolar. I may have it; it doesn’t have me. NAMI offers many awesome support groups. Please check them out to find the right fit for you. They are absolutely free. Even if the rest of your life has many moments you think suck, just go and give it a try. If anything, it gets you out of bed if that’s your struggle. That sometimes is the hardest step of all.